Navigating the waters of Social Security disability and Veterans' disability through Veterans Affairs (VA) can be exhausting.
As someone with more than 30 years' experience helping federal employees, I can personally attest to the complexity of these programs. However, with the right guidance, Veterans can get informed and make the most of the benefits available to them.
An important thing to know about Social Security disability insurance is that it only pays for total disability, not short-term or partial disability. "Disability" in this case means the inability to work, and there are two specific requirements that must be fulfilled to qualify:
•Unable to do substantial work because of your medical condition(s)
•Medical condition(s) must have lasted, or be expected to last, at least one year or to result in death
To find out if you qualify, visit the Veterans section on the Social Security Administration (SSA) website. It contains many resources for those who served and can get you started with the qualification and application processes.
There is also a disability planner to help you understand the whole process and key items to consider. Similarly, you can visit your nearest SSA branch, or call 800-772-1213.
Those who served even one day of active status in the military from January 1957 through December 31, 2001, qualify for a higher Social Security payment because of their military service.
The critical fact is that you MUST ASK FOR THIS BENEFIT! Up to $1,200 per year of earning credit is credited at the time of application, which can make a substantial difference when you retire.
You must bring your DD-214 to the SSA office, and again, you must ASK for this benefit. Unfortunately, this program ended January 2002 and Veterans could miss out, so be sure to ask for this benefit if it applies to you.
As with Social Security, obtaining disability benefits from VA requires extensive qualification and application processes. But with the right know-how, Veterans can secure the benefits they deserve.
Unlike Social Security, VA benefits are available for partial disability. For those with service-connected disabilities, 10% to 100% benefits are payable for war time injuries. Also, complete health care and prescriptions are provided for Veterans with 40% or greater disability. It's important to note these benefits are tax-free and do not affect any other benefits.
To qualify for VA disability benefits, service members must be disabled by an injury or illness that was incurred or aggravated during active military service, as determined by VA. After a diagnosis, service members need to have a Compensation & Pension hearing, which helps determine benefit levels.
To expedite benefits delivery, Veterans must submit a copy of their service discharge form (DD-214, DD-215, or for World War II Veterans, a WD form). These forms document service dates and type of discharge, and also provide full name, military service number and branch and dates of service.
They are incredibly important and should be kept in a safe location, accessible to the Veteran and next of kin or designated representative(s).
All of this can certainly be overwhelming. So where can you get help?
Simply go to a VA Service Center. Find one near you by using VA's website . Every county has a designated Veteran Service Officer that can also help. VA also offers eBenefits, a Web portal that provides resources and self-service capabilities.
VA disability benefits can extend beyond the service member as well. For those with disability ratings of 30 percent or more, allowances are available for spouses, minor children, and children 18-23 years old attending school. Benefits are also available for children who are disabled prior to age 18, along with dependent parents.
You served our country and earned these benefits. And while they can go a long way towards helping you and your family, obtaining these benefits can be time-consuming, as well as physically and emotionally draining.
Get as much support as you can throughout the process. Speak with the SSA and VA, contact planning professionals, and an attorney if needed.
Never forget that you earned these benefits - make the most of them!
Chip Hollingsworth, founder of the Federal Employee Benefits Assistance Agency LLC, has been helping federal employees with financial services and planning for over 30 years. He is a Vietnam veteran and received several decorations, including the Bronze Star Medal. Chip is currently a member of the Veterans of Foreign War and is proudly a disabled veteran. For more information contact 256-467-4520